MEPs accuse Commission of using EU membership as 'bargaining chip'

MEPs have written an open letter to the EU Commission, calling for it to rethink its strategy on negotiating an EU-Turkey refugee action plan.

By William Louch

28 Oct 2015

MEPs, including Ernest Maragall I Mira (Greens/EFA), Kati Piri (S&D) and Marietje Schaake (ALDE), have written a joint letter to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. They voiced their concerns over the Commission "directly linking" Turkey-EU accession negotiations with finding a solution to the refugee crisis.

Ankara is seen as a key partner in helping control the influx of refugees into Europe. Turkey currently hosts over two million refugees, with over 450,000 using the country as a launch pad to enter Europe, mainly through Greece.

Efforts to find an urgent resolution to the "unprecedented refugee crisis" facing Europe has prompted the Commission to agree an aid package offering Turkey significant financial assistance of up to €3bn. There is also a commitment to discussing visa-free access for Turkish citizens travelling to Europe and to "re-energising" Turkey's EU accession negotiations.


The letter states that they believe "it is essential that the EU and Turkey urgently cooperate and deal with the crisis," and that the MEPs "support, in principle, the EU Commission's initiative for an EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan."

However, referring to the ongoing negotiations between the EU-Turkey, the MEPs said that, "while we are in favour of advancing accession negotiations with Turkey, we are deeply concerned to see how they are being used as a bargaining chip for the Draft Action Plan."

The deputies continued, "EU conditionality for enlargement should not be a political instrument to compensate for a failed strategy to tackle the refugee crisis."

The letter also tackles Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent crackdown on media freedom in the country and the escalating conflict between the government and the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK). Both are issues where Erdoğan sought reform in 2013 in what he described as, "the most wide-ranging package of reforms in the country’s history."

The MEPs wrote, "The postponement of this year's progress report signals a lack of willingness to speak up against the Turkish government's backtrack on reforms."

They argued that, "This sets a bad precedent and creates an image that the EU is willing to soften its tone on internal developments in Turkey in exchange for cooperation on refugees."

The MEPs concluded by calling on, "the Commission to publish its progress report on Turkey ahead of the 1 November elections."

While Turkey is not realistically expected to become an EU member state in the near future, its importance in helping find a solution to the refugee crisis has led to a perceptible shift in attitude towards its chances of joining the EU.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has long been opposed to offering Turkey full membership of the bloc, advocating instead a "privileged partnership."

However, as Merkel comes under increasing political pressure in Germany to find a solution to the crisis, her opinion seems to be changing.

Speaking last week she said, "Germany is ready this year to open Chapter 17, and make preparations for (Chapters) 23 and 24. We can talk about the details". She also spoke of organising the accession process "more dynamically."  

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